Addiction to drugs and alcohol have classically been viewed as a men’s issue. In fact, most drug rehab programs that have been developed tend to cater specifically to men. Women have traditionally been seen as less susceptible to drug abuse, and those women who do face addictions are often stigmatized. However, given that ⅓ of all alcoholics are women, and nearly half of all illegal-drug abusers are women, social scientists have started to pay more attention to the unique effect illicit chemicals have on females. Here are seven points to keep in mind when considering the connection between women and substance abuse.
1. Number of Women Affected
It’s easy to say that half of illegal drug abuser and ⅓ of all alcoholics are female, but what does that amount to in real numbers? Well, to more effectively present a picture of just how important an issue this is, let’s take a look. Substance abuse illnesses are responsible for the deaths of more than 200,000 women every year. Additionally, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, more than 4 million women are in desperate need of treatment for an addiction of some kind or another. Of course, this doesn’t include those whose chemical dependencies remain hidden, and it also doesn’t account for the negative effect that these addictions have on friends, family, or loved ones.
It’s impossible to identify the one root cause of drug addiction, because in reality, most lives are far too complex to narrow down into easily identifiable sequences of simple cause and effect. On the other hand, scientists have come to recognize relationships between certain situations and drug abuse in women. Drug use can stem from issues brought on by mental disabilities, depression, or low self-image. It can easily develop in women who use prescription medication to combat chronic pain. Perhaps most telling is the connection between drug use and those who have experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, at least 70 percent of women drug abusers had been sexually abused by the time they were 16 years old. Many users also grew up with a parent or guardian who may have abused drugs. Often, women who abuse substances find themselves isolated from support networks that could help them.
3. Differences between Men and Women
While it is true that women are slightly less likely to use illicit drugs than men, they do tend to develop substance abuse problems much faster and have more health-related consequences, according to a study by Carla Green, a senior investigator at the Center for Health Research. This faster development means women also start facing severe consequences much sooner than men do, and their addictions often interfere more with their daily lives. According to the study, women face more barriers when seeking treatment, including poor economic conditions, family responsibilities, and shame and embarrassment. In general, women have a much more difficult time recovering from addictions.
Addiction is closely linked with domestic violence, and the two seem to exacerbate each other in a never ending cycle. Often this cycle is passed down to children. Additionally, women who abuse drugs are more likely to try to avoid going to work, and in some cases may change jobs more than four times a year. If a drug addict is a parent, home life can be chaotic, with children facing neglect and poverty. Finally, women face major health consequences from severe withdrawals, including major complications with pregnancy.
Effective treatment programs for women are still being developed. Because women are statistically less likely to seek out and stay in treatment, clinicians have been working to help make treatments more accessible to females. Studies have found that women need a supportive therapy that they consider safe and nurturing. Confrontation used in traditional programs developed for men tends to be ineffective for women who need a more collaborative environment where primary needs, such as food, transportation, and childcare, will be taken care of first. Women seeking treatment may consider a non 12 step drug rehab program that helps take care of all personal needs to improve chances of recovery.
It takes more than a few weeks without drug use to overcome a substance abuse problem. As such, it is important that those women who complete their rehabilitation programs are successfully integrated back into society. However, much of the current policy regarding drug users is to rely on punishment, by limiting opportunities related to education, work, monetary assistance, social support, housing, and even social roles. However, when it comes to women, this form of deterrent is actually far more likely to precipitate a relapse. Supportive relationships and opportunities to take part in normal social roles make reintegration of female substance abusers far more effective.
As with most substance abuse problems, the key factors in prevention are education and support. Women who have experienced abuse should seek out support groups and professional therapy. Those who regularly find themselves in high-risk situations should do what they can to alter their lifestyles. Remember, the only way to be completely safe from addiction is to never get involved in drug use to begin with. Woman may be less likely to get involved with addictive substances, but that doesn’t make the drugs any less dangerous.